A list of the reasons why I love February (and it does not include the Super Bowl)

In the post-holiday slump, when the very last sparkly decoration has been boxed up and hidden away, and the festive spirit has faded but several months of winter remain, I have but one thought that has always sustained me: February.

I’ll be honest, when I was a child the thought of February perked me up because this is my birthday month, and what kid does not immediately calculate the distance to their birthday once the last Christmas present is opened?

Of course, my unquenchable thirst for more presents has mellowed considerably over the decades, but February retains its sparkle for several reasons.

It’s oddly short, and I think that’s kind of cool.  And then it does that thing every four years with the extra day.  How cool is that?  Can you name another month that does that?  I didn’t think so.

It’s Black History Month, and I love that.  I know that this is controversial, and I absolutely understand the contraversy.  Why only one month?  However, Black History Month was introduced because black history had been long overlooked and marginalized.  I love history and I love learning about figures and events which would otherwise be woefully overlooked.

Mardi Gras.  We are heavily into that particular holiday in these parts.  These days my Mardi Gras consists of cooking up wonderful Cajun food and attending family friendly parades, but it’s still so much fun.

My baby girl at the Mardi Gras parade, scarfing down a moon pie.

My baby girl at the Mardi Gras parade, scarfing down a moon pie.

TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar.  Yes, the folks at Turner Classic Movies – AKA, the best channel, ever – have managed to cram 31 days into little 28-day February.  How they do that, I don’t know.  But for the entire month of February, and for apparently a few days in March, they offer viewers a selection of Oscar nominees and winners – for movies, performances, documentary shorts, etc. – from the past eight decades of motion picture history.   The lineup invariably includes 1927’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, the first ever winner for best picture.  And if you have know me for even a short while, you know that I love old movies.

My son’s birthday.  Nine years ago this month, I was hugely  pregnant with my first child.  I brought him home from the hospital on my birthday.  Never had my birthday ever been so little about me, and so much about someone else.  And that was just fine.  February each year marks the anniversary of motherhood for me, the point in which my life was forever divided into before and after.

And so you have my list, although I am sure there is more.  But suffice to say…I love this month.

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When your TV fantasy dad is probably a serial rapist

My fantasy dad has been in the news lately.  A lot in the news.  And not in the good way that beloved icons are in the news.

My fantasy dad was Bill Cosby, and he has probably raped lots of women, and he’s probably never going to serve a day in jail for it.

My life could be a little dark when I was growing up.  My step-father was a bit of an ass.  And by “a bit” I mean “a lot”.  And he had my mother’s full support.  I actually don’t want it to seem like I dwell on these matters, because I really don’t.  Almost thirty years have passed since I left my mom’s house.  So much has happened in the intervening time that has defined me since then.

But I can still so clearly remember, starting in 1984, tuning in to the Cosby show on the tiny black and white TV in my mother’s bedroom, and for a half an hour being drawn into a world where family meant a mother and a father living in the same house.  With siblings.  And love and humor.  Problems were always addressed with a firm and loving approach.  This family even got mad at each other affectionately.  How I wished to join them on the other side of that glass, just go live forever with Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad.  Malcolm-Jamal Warner could be my big brother, and Lisa Bonet and I could share her awesome wardrobe.

I saw Bill Cosby in an old 1970’s movie recently.  The film was 1978’s California Suite.  It was one of those lighthearted films with an ensemble cast – Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Walter Matthau, etc. – who portray guests at the Beverly Hills Hotel.  Bill’s character was there with his brother-in-law, aka Richard Pryor, and as I watched the two engage in their on-screen shenanigans, I searched for any possible sign of the dark force below that affable surface.  Of course, that darkness evades detection entirely.

I sincerely want to believe that this man, the father of my dreams, is as harmless, gentle, and loving as his public persona has led me to believe for my entire life.  But when evidence piles up as victims and near-victims alike come forward with their stories, my logical self cannot refute that evidence.

In 2007, my step-father passed away.  His body and mind were in ruins and he was a shell of his former self.  Later that year, my mother became very ill with Guillane-Barre syndrome and nearly died.  After extensive rehab in which she relearned how to walk, she sold her Connecticut house and moved to Florida.  She lives five miles from me and helps to care for my children, shuttling them from school to activities, going to soccer games and karate classes.  We talk on the phone and joke and laugh.  We enjoy one another’s company.  She is unrecognizable when compared with the stern disciplinarian of my childhood.

As the demons of my early years have faded away, so too do the heroes, those who my naive young mind placed on a pedestal.  Those have been replaced by real people – by my father-in-law, who photographed Soviet missiles in Cuba and retells the story in a quiet, matter-of-fact manner.  My husband, who took his turn walking the floor with his babies at night and devotes all of his spare time to connecting with his family.  By my former boss, my friend the veteran, my aunt.

Heroes still abound, all within arm’s reach.

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2015, the year of connections

It’s mid-January, yet the holidays seem far behind us now. While my extra pounds may linger, the decorations are stored away and winter, at least in my neck of the woods, is in its final stages, alternating between cold snaps and warm air. Soon the warm spells will be longer and the cold spells shorter, and the boots and cashmere will be tucked away for the next ten months. My resolutions are often made and forgotten by now, as they often have been by me, but one I am working to keep sight of the only one I made this year: nurture my connections.

So my commitment for 2015 is to forsake the things that sap my time, and nurture the connections with the people around me.

My life can sometimes isolate my, even from the very people I live with. I come home from work most days feeling spent, with still more work to do on the home front. If I’m being honest, I could say that I allow full weeks to pass without truly spending quality time with my children. And if I’m being even more honest, I might even admit that the quality time that is spent is often done so without being fully present, my mind lingering on laundry or dishes or the ridiculous heap of other chores that are constantly tugging me away.

And to all that honesty, I might add that although I am an advocate for gentle parenting, I often become exasperated with my children, and my approach with them can become habitually short.

This can’t go on. I’ve got to reconnect. I need my relationships.

So, this is tricky territory for a working mother. We will still need clean clothes to wear and food to eat, and clean dishes to eat it from. But what about after the most fundamental tasks are accomplished?

The other night after dinner and dishes, instead of retreating to the computer to look at Facebook (again), or shop online, watch TV, or play Words With Friends, I gave my four-year-old a bath, lingering to listen to her chatter. I talked her in to letting me braid her damp hair so that it would be pretty and wavy the next day, and then we sent about painting her nails. I watched a show with her, and we read stories. Although her obstinate tendencies can sometimes make mornings a challenge, the next morning held nothing but good vibes.

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The lovely Mia, with the beautiful wavy hair.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, I need my relationships, and my relationships need my time. I’ve committed this year to being present with my family and friends (and that includes you, blogging friends.)

Happy 2015, you guys.

And here is a picture from our “girl date” yesterday.

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Waiting for our fried shrimp.

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New life for vintage postcards

I used to be a maker of gifts. My gifts were typically the crocheted variety. Every year some lucky soul received an afghan from me. Over time I picked Halloween as my start date so that it could be guaranteed for Christmas. That practice, like many others, went extinct once I had children. I know that someday I will again wile away the hours watching TV while I churn out a new creation, stitch by stitch. In the meantime, I will lovingly purchase gifts like most other people.

Except for this one. Maybe it’s not so much handmade as it is hand-assembled, but it is a special gift for just the right person. A history lover on your list is sure to enjoy it.

The steps are:

1. Go to eBay.

2. Search for vintage postcards from your recipient’s hometown. (Here I used Pensacola, Florida postcards.)

3. Assemble them in a frame. I find that a floating frame works best, the kind where the picture is suspended between two panes of glass. I use small rolled up pieces of Scotch tape on the back to hold them in place.

4. Use a clean cloth to rid the panes of dust and lint before putting them together.

And that is all.

Obviously, this may not be the ideal gift for everyone. For instance, my father-in-law is from Mountain Home, Arkansas, and I can assure you that there are very few postcards from that town. And those that I did find were not especially frame-worthy. If, however your recipient, being from a small, non-photogenic town, has an attachment to a larger city, well then you’re in business. For instance, if he just loves New York City, or Hawaii, or Paris, then you should have no problem finding many frame-worthy postcards.

When you look at these postcards up close, you can see that they are tiny works of art. The watercolor designs are on beautifully textured heavy linen paper. These postcards seem most prolific from the 1920’s through the 1950’s, before they were replaced with the glossy versions we are familiar with today.

You can see my most recent project below. This one went to my uncle this year. last year a larger one went to my dad. I apologize in advance for my poor images. I had assembled the frame before I realized I should take some pictures, and, well, glass doesn’t photograph so well.

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When looking at postcards, I think that the ones that have actually been mailed are most interesting, provided that the ink has not bled through to the image on the front. From the postcard above, I can deduce that a woman traveled with her husband and possibly their children as he attended flight training here at Saufley Field, as many service men who came to Saufley at one time were coming through for that purpose. The family stayed near the base and enjoyed the sights while he worked or attended classes. The postcard bears a 1951 postmark.

Here is the one I made for my dad last year…

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Each time I acquire one of those postcards, I find it so beautiful I want to keep it for myself. One day I’ll get around to making a collage to keep.

Happy New Year, my friends!

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It’s the most wonderful day of the year (so say I)

A few weeks ago I took several days off from work in order to give myself a head start on holiday preparations. This has become tradition for the past few years, as I tell myself that if only I can work hard and fast enough, get organized, do the wrapping, start the baking, and finish the decorating, my Christmas will be the smooth and tranquil holiday that I know it can be. Things have yet to work out in my favor, but my opinion remains that a head start is better than no head start.

On an afternoon that I was out shopping, I stopped by a large, nationally known crafty home decor store, with the vague idea of finding a garland to dress my mantle. The place was teeming with excited shoppers, poring over crafts and gifts and decor. I made my way to the garland area, which adorned one wall of this large establishment. This was a bustling part of the store, with shoppers, singly or in pairs, examining swags and garlands of simulated spruce and pine cone and berries, hanging in rows going higher and higher up the wall, until they were only accessible by a hook pole.

Suddenly I was unsettled. Unsettled by the excited shoppers, unsettled by the enormity of the place and the contents therein, unsettled by the very girth of these garlands, many as big around as a person’s thigh. And I left that store without the garland, overwhelmed.

I had nothing against the shoppers, the store, the garland, the season. People are excited, and stores carry items that we, after all, buy. I was, however, uncomfortable with what seems to be startling material excess and consumption, and I stop and wonder how it all connects to the spiritual origins of the season.

And therein lies the reason that this season confounds and delights me, as I work ever harder to achieve the balance between doing those things which are expected of me, and doing those things which bring me joy. And throughout the season I teeter between the more mundane tasks of shopping and wrapping, and the more pleasurable practice of  baking up a storm and making my house smell like warm cookies. And come Christmas morning, what’s done is done, and I do my best to soak it all in as my children tear excitedly into their gifts.

And still, my favorite day of the year remains this day. This day is when all of the hard work is behind me, and when I can enjoy my time off, admire my gifts, and play with my children. I can make the hot chocolate that I have meant to make for weeks but never gotten around to, and bask in the glow of another Christmas well done, or at least, done as well as I can.

Today I made up for month of sins by going for a long walk and consuming a large plate of lettuce…

…with a few select toppings.

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And then later, I clean…

 

 

 

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Maybe.  I might save this for tomorrow.

Happy holidays to all my friends out there.

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A sour bite of envy

 

My in-laws just returned from a trip to visit my niece and nephew’s school for Grandparents’ Day.

“Oh, you should see their school,” my mother-in-law gushed, “it’s so nice.  They have a computer lab about four times the size of this room here, and they all go in and have a class in there.”

And that was enough to release the pang longing and of failure within me, the frustration that I am usually able to keep in check by focusing on all that I appreciate about my life.

“They all have Ipads in that classroom too,” she continued.  “They get them out of a rack and do things on them in class.  I guess that’s why the tuition is so high…”

And I listen and smile, hoping that I do not betray the disappointment has formed in my heart as I am reminded of what some parents are able to do for their children that I am not able to do for my own.

And of course I never begrudge them that, the same as I never begrudge my Facebook acquaintances their trips and grown up houses and new cars.  And normally I can roll with it without any effort at all, happy that all is going well in my friends’ lives.  I never can predict what will catch in my throat, or why…this friend’s new bedroom set…a cousin’s trip to New York…a high school buddy’s new boat.  Or my niece and nephew’s pricey, shiny, private school, with computer labs and multiple gyms for different age groups.

And I think, what is it that all of these people have figured out that I haven’t yet figured out?  Why am I struggling?  At 42!

And it is when such things stick in my throat that I must put forth great effort to filter out the noise and focus.  They are things, they don’t matter, we are fine.

And I try to remember that we have a house and other people don’t have houses.  And we have educations and jobs and insurance.  We have healthy children.  Our cars are not new or especially nice but at least they drive, and maybe if we can hold out a few more years, just a few, we can buy newer ones.  Not new, but at least newer.

Then I again will the self-pity to go away…and in short course, it is gone.  And gone it stays for the next month, or two, or six.

They are things.

They don’t matter.

We are fine.

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The Bug That Loves The South

When I was a child growing up in Connecticut I loved all creatures.  The ones I could readily get my hands on were caterpillars, and I played with them all the time, sometimes bringing them indoors to visit my dollhouse.  They had a habit of creeping away but oh how I loved to pet and play with them.  I think their furry little bodies must have been appealing to a little girl without a cat or dog to pet and snuggle.

That changed around 1980, when the gypsy moths took over the state.

Gypsy moths have always been around Connecticut, and why their population exploded in that particular summer remains something of a mystery, but explode it did.

The moth life cycle begins, of course, with the caterpillar…big furry ones.

Who wants to cuddle?

Who wants to cuddle?

Only this time, it began with many, many caterpillars, munching on leaves, marching across sidewalks, and raining out of trees onto passerby below.

At the end of that summer, our trees were stripped bare, there was talk of an even larger invasion the following year, and my affection for the little beasts had diminished.  The second invasion never came, but my distaste for plague-like insect intrusions persists.

Now I live in the South, and am faced with an semi-annual invasion of love bugs, so named not because they are lovable, but because they love each other.  Everywhere.  All the time.

They land in my coffee.

Dang.

Dang.

They mate on my deck.

Yes, they're connected.

Yes, they’re connected.

They practice mid-air sexual acrobatics.

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Their favorite position, it seems.

And then they die on my floor.

It was a good life.

It was a good life.

Twice a year, every year.

I’ll take a bi-annual mating frenzy of these critters over a once-in-a-lifetime bum-rush of the caterpillars, but I must say, the love bugs have worn out their welcome for the year.

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